Have I mentioned before what a pain it is to be a food snob? Working around the food business, owning and now managing a gourmet shop, and eating some seriously good food from New York City to Las Vegas and right here at home has turned me into a snob with a low tolerance for crappy food. I have an even lower tolerance for people putting their mugs in front of TV cameras and acting as if they know something when they don’t. I found a fellow blogger who has a seriously hard time with this food TV explosion we are experiencing and I love to read his rants. Saves me from having to say things myself – I can just agree with him.
As tired as I am of most of the offerings on Food Network and Cooking Channel, I at least respect the fact that they run a tight ship and check their facts before letting their stars say things that aren’t true on camera. I was watching Rachel Ray’s talk show on CBS the other morning – not on purpose, it was just on. So she’s dumping this stuff that looks like chunky tomato juice into a pot on her stove and she calls the stuff Passata. She proceeded to bumble and babble and fall flat on her face trying to explain what the hell passata is – and she failed. She said it was like fresh tomatoes, but not really, and sold in a jar, not a can, and, well, just get some it’s real good. Right. She is clueless. I don’t know what that stuff was she poured into the pot but it was way too chunky to be true passata. Apparently she has fallen victim to some clever marketing on the part of someone who put some crushed tomatoes in a jar instead of a can and called it passata. Americans are so gullible; our love affair with all things European has made a lot of folks very rich and perpetuated some serious BS. I’m just sayin’.
Passata is, really, a pure tomato juice from which most of the pulp and all of the seeds has been removed through repeated pressing/juicing. If you make it, it is indeed a very fresh taste that is a fabulous burst of flavor in the winter when fresh tomatoes are not growing in your backyard. But if, like me, you don’t own a passapomodoro – the machine used to squish all the liquid out of the tomatoes – then you probably buy tomato juice or tomato puree in a can. Just like me. If you get the no-salt-added variety it is a delicious addition to many dishes.
Having gotten my knickers in a snit over Rach’s very public fumble that CBS didn’t bother to clean up before it aired on national television, I felt like cooking. But I was still too sick so I didn’t. Today, I think I may have turned the corner. So I ventured out and picked up a few things I didn’t have so I can make lasagna because I need some stick-to-my-ribs comfort food. Step one: make the sauce. I am making extra sauce to put a little in the freezer for later when I don’t want to cook. If you have a family of four this is probably only enough sauce for one hearty meal. Since I am but one person (and the dog is on a no-human-food diet), I will have extra.
There are two things I normally like to have for my tomato sauce that I didn’t have today: bay leaves and celery (you know I like my bay leaves because I ran out; most people have them forever, like, that same jar). Hey, I’m not Italian, so there are no rules in my kitchen other than don’t burn anything if you can help it. I know some Italians that would object to the bay leaves saying it was a Greek thing or a Turkish thing. What. Ever. Anyhow, today I didn’t have bay leaves or celery, so I used the other usual suspects: half a large onion; several small carrots; 4 large cloves of garlic that I chopped up fine with a teaspoon of salt; and a small summer squash (seeded) in lieu of the celery I didn’t have. My seasonings were 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves (sort of in lieu of the bay leaves; the Italians would say it’s more of a pizzaiola sauce with the addition of the oregano – whatever), 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves, and another tablespoon of salt. My tomato products were a large can (28 oz) of no-salt-added crushed tomatoes and a small can (6 oz) of no-salt-added tomato paste which I reconstituted in 3 cans of water (that’s 18 ounces of water for my math challenged friends). I sautéed the diced vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until the onions were clear, then added the seasonings and tomato products. Once the simmering starts in earnest, turn down to a bare simmer and just keep cooking, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until all the flavors develop and the sauce is thickened, about an hour. I leave a lid on the pot tilted a bit so some steam can escape. Now taste and adjust your seasonings. I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar because the sauce was very acidic – a common problem with canned tomato products. This does not make the sauce sweet at all; it neutralizes the acidity and makes the tomato flavor really rich.
Now you can do anything you want with this sauce – dip bread in it, use it for your lasagna, toss it on pasta, dress your meatballs with it, use it as a pizza sauce – just any little thing you’d like to do! You can easily double or triple this recipe for a big family gathering. You can add some elegance with a ½ cup or so of dry red wine added to the veggies and cooked off for about 5 minutes before adding the tomato products. You can use an immersion blender to completely puree the veggies to make this sauce smooth as silk. Whatever floats your boat. This is so much better than any sauce you can buy prepared, and it took me only 10 minutes to prepare and an hour to cook with very little effort on my part. Low sodium, big flavor, easy peasy.
OK, time for me to eat. Did I mention that my friend Roberta and her husband Jim have a bakery? (Roberta is one of those Italians that would probably not approve of my bay leaf addition to the tomato sauce.) If you are on Facebook check them out here. She brought me bread and cookies yesterday. That must be why I feel better today! Yum.